Q&A with Bob Kaputof, associate professor of Kinetic Imaging

Bob Kaputof, associate professor of Kinetic Imaging, joined VCUarts for a conversation about his recent work in Greece with faculty from VCUarts Qatar. In their VCU Presidential Research Quest funded project, the team has interviewed people on the island of Kefalonia who lived through a WWII-era massacre of prisoners of war. Their hours of footage will culminate in an interactive exhibition that incorporates video and augmented reality.

VCUarts: What were you up to in Greece?

Bob Kaputof: I’m working on a project with three other colleagues from Doha on the VCUarts Qatar campus. It’s on the martyrs of Kefalonia. In 1943, on the island of Kefalonia, there was a massacre of Italian prisoners of war by the Nazis. The story is a complicated one, because the Italians were fighting on the Axis side during World War II and had invaded and occupied Greece and the Greek islands. In ’43, the Italians surrendered, said the war is over, and that’s that. The Nazis hadn’t. From there, history gets a little foggy. Some of the Italians surrendered, some of the Italians went to the resistance, some of the Italians gave up their weapons—but the Nazis just decided they should all be killed. It’s one of the largest murders of prisoners of war in WWII.

So, that’s the story, that’s what we were there for. In October 2020, we’ll be doing an exhibition at the [Leon Art Center]. The first trip was to meet the community, get a lay of the land. We shot, I think, ten interviews and b-roll. A lot of just interfacing with the community. We got to know the island a bit. And we go back in May for 22 days to do most of the work. This was all being brought to you by a VCU Presidential Research Quest grant, which my colleagues in Doha got. They’ll be working on augmented reality, a book and the video material. We’ll figure out how it all comes together in October 2020 with our exhibition.

VCUarts: Who from VCUarts Qatar are you working with?

Kaputof: Diane Derr, Law Alsobrook and Sadia Mir. My colleagues are designers and writers and documentary filmmakers, and they’re all quite good. It’s a real interesting group of people, and my colleagues really deserve a lot of the credit because they were the ones who wrote the grant.

In the first trip, I think we all complimented each other well. People’s skills overlap, but sometimes it starts working out that different people take on different things because it’s easier. Also, I’m learning something. I think it would be a great case study because this is about art and design, but it’s also about interfacing with a group of people in a community. You know, how do you come to this community and do their story justice, and win over their confidence?

It’s very challenging but it can also be very rewarding. When we’re shooting an interview, I’m so focused on a lot of technical stuff that I sometimes—to be honest—half-hear the interview. My mind’s running, like, “Is the audio right? Is the picture right? Is everything recording? Does he look good? Does he not?” And isn’t sometimes until later that night when I’m charging batteries or something that the story that I heard kind of hits me. Some of these stories are very heavy. They’re about war crimes, and they’re quite brutal. There’s a weird delayed reaction.

It’s also a generation that’s not gonna be with us much longer. You’re hearing some of the stories first-hand, some of the stories second-hand, passed down. But they’re gonna go away. Maybe this is an attempt to keep some of this around. It has had a real effect on peoples’ lives on the islands. It’s an underreported historical event of WWII, it’s not if you live there.

VCUarts: How did you choose the interview subjects?

Kaputof: Interfacing with the community. The community goes, “We’ve got five people on this other side of the island, and they’re all in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Come over tomorrow and interview them.” And they all have direct stories or second-hand stories about the event.

VCUarts: And they were ready to just talk?

Kaputof: Yep. On our second day—it was a long day—and we just got there and went to work. The Greeks are very generous, and so we’re shooting interviews, they’re trying to feed us dinner, they’re talking, you know. And then, two of my favorite interviews were when we were just driving around this village. Our interpreter was talking to somebody who said, “Hey, there’s a woman who was alive during this. She has a story.” And boom—we’re at her house. Boom—shooting an interview right on her front doorstep. Then, 20 minutes later, this incredible Greek woman of 80 years old is sitting on a bench waiting for us. And boom—tells us her story and we shoot right in front of the house. All of a sudden, we’ve got these two amazing stories.

Most of us know about WWII, we’ve seen all the movies. But when you hear these stories first-hand, some of which are pretty heavy, it makes you think. It should.